Here’s a secret: I wasn’t in love with the original Ghostbusters as a kid.
I was more of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind of girl. Or a retelling of The Three Musketeers as dogs. Transformers. My Little Pony. Captain Planet. Or a retelling of Treasure Island as animals. (Are you sensing a theme?) I first watched it on TV, and saw it every so often when it was repeated. I definitely remember watching the cartoon.
But I wasn’t in love, definitely not obsessed, and I was obsessed with enough things as a kid to recognise this.
And then they announced an all-female reboot, and my reaction could be best described as: !!!!!!!!!!! Partly because I am there with bells on for female retellings, the strength of the cast, and the sly gender-flipping of Chris Hemsworth as the receptionist.
While the internet did its thing over the trailers, I watched them, laughed, and decided I’d see it anyway. Humour is subjective, and there’s been many times I’ve laughed during films when no one else has.
Due to editing deadlines and timing, the film was already out in the UK/Ireland and the US when I went to see it. Thanks to Twitter, I already knew the film wasn’t as bad as anticipated, and I would really, really like Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann. Observe:
My friend and I went in with our drinks and popcorn, and started laughing right from the beginning. And the same realisations that I’d already seen floating around the internet dawned on me:
I was watching women working as a group, not trying to impress a man, geeking out over film!science, awkwardly becoming friends, and saving their male friend while being badass and saving the world. All while wearing grey jumpsuits. Sure, Erin had a crush on Kevin, but discussions around men and relationships were brief sentences, quickly forgotten. Instead: SCIENCE! CADAVERS! GHOSTS!
It was amazing.
75% of the way through, my friend and I gave up on being quiet and roared laughing. When the familiar Ghostbusters theme started while they were tearing through the streets of NYC to save the world, a weird fluttery excitement started in my chest.
And then we reached Kate McKinnon’s action scene, and I promptly lost it. I made sounds in my brain that only bats could hear.
At which point, I watched a woman take on a mob of ghosts, being an amazing BADASS, with not a whiff of sexuality attached to it. The jumpsuit didn’t emphasise curves, she was in boots, and she may not have been entirely sure what she was doing, but the world needed saving so: “Let’s go.”
It wasn’t just seeing women save the world. It was seeing an openly-queer actress playing a character later revealed as queer, flirting in the film (I spent my teen years and twenties side-eyeing and squinting at subtext, examining the slightest crumb: there was flirting). And life isn’t simple enough to think: “Damn, what if Kate McKinnon and Holtzmann had been a part of my childhood?” but–
Damn. What if Kate McKinnon and Holtzmann had been a part of my childhood?
When we left the cinema, it wasn’t just a matter of encouraging people to see this film. It was telling them to see this film, as I wanted more of these movies, and it needed to not only make money, but do well, for that to happen.
At the time, I was getting ready to query my predominately female, queer, YA fantasy. While I fondly refer to it as my backstabbing kissing book, I’d wrestled a lot with heteronormative and patriarchal norms in the plot and world-building. What would society be like if gay marriage was accepted and normal? What if women could inherit land, wealth, ascend to positions open to men as well? How to portray this as normal, something a character would refer to flippantly, a hint of world-building that’s just how things are? Leaving the cinema, I was ready to query, finally. We needed these stories. My teenage self would have done anything to read the books I was writing.
And I was now unbelievably excited to get to work on my next project: a queer, female retelling of The Three Musketeers (yeah, the cartoon version with dogs made an impression). Because these kinds of stories with women, retellings or not, are important not just to the future generation, who can unquestioningly accept they can be girls and ghostbusters. They’re for the current generation, who deserve to see themselves reflected in stories. And for us, who didn’t have them but now can.